BMT Day 25 – 12.3 miles (411.3 total)

That bed. I slept amazing. Whatever combination of pillows, blankets, and tired contributed to the equation, it was snooz-a-licious.

I heard someone moving around in the other room and emerged to find Jim, and he graciously made me a cup of coffee that I took to my room to sort through my last resupply box. The last one! It was already the end of October and there were four days of hiking left. It didn’t feel like the end of October…the sun forgot what it did with the snow and the single degree temps a few days ago, and t-ed up a week of 50-60 degree temps and blue sky. I’ll happily take it, but did grieve a little for the thirsty ground and the folks still fleeing wildfires in California. We really do need some rain, and a lot of it (but not all at once! Lets pass on post-wildfire flooding please and thank you 🙏).

Once the food was sorted and the gear back in my pack, I went out to enjoy the morning with Jim and Rhonda. I’ve had such interesting conversations on this hike…part of it may be that I have almost no barriers left between me and the world. I’m feeling very raw, and you are gonna get my true self right now…I don’t have much time or patience for dilly dallying around conversations or topics that aren’t authentic, important, and true. I know it’s also because the people I’ve been spending time with out here are of the sort made of integrity, passion, and respect for the planet and each other. It surely has been feeding me in a more significant way than the omelette and chorizo I had for breakfast. But wow, what a great breakfast. 

Rhonda made me a whole loaf of sourdough bread and threw in most of a stick of butter. On top of that was a full ziplock of brownies. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be living my best life on this last stretch.

We headed back to Sumpter where they had picked me up yesterday (masks on!), and I was walking north by noon. Jim and Rhonda, I can’t wait to do it again!

Jim and Rhonda Kennedy

I had a big stretch of gravel road on deck, and I walked past Cracker Creek which had been turned inside out in the search for gold. In fact, that’s what all of this dredging looked like, the guts of the rivers were spilled out in big piles of river rock, all in the search for the bling.

I had a cross country section for the final stretch of the day, but it was one of the more pleasant cross country hikes I’ve had on this trip. The forest canopy was open, and the downed trees I had the step over were mostly shin high or less and there was always a way through. Lovely! At times I found myself on a trail, I hadn’t remembered anyone saying there was a trail back here, but sure enough there were cut ends of logs, and even red blazes painted on a few trees.

Sourdough, oh!

To avoid a mining claim I headed over for a steep climb up to the flanks of Crown Point to find the north slope was still holding onto some icy snow, which made the push a little dicey. Up top I surveyed the path ahead and opted for a different ascent due to more north facing slopes in the mapped route. As I was climbing up the spine of Crown Point, it appeared fairly wide with large shelters of granite boulders. I had to do a bit of scrambling on the boulders, but because it wasn’t exposed, I had fun with it. I decided the best way through was to summit Crown Point and head down the other side to intersect my route again. Up, up, up and away! 

At about 7,800′ I found a sheltered spot to set up camp. It wasn’t even supposed to freeze tonight and I was facing the Elkhorns where I had just been, but all the snow was gone. That was fast!

snow for water again

Dinner was sourdough bread and sharp cheddar cheese. At this rate I won’t be eating any of my resupply, just baked goods. I can dig it.

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BMT Day 24 – 13 miles (399 total)

It was so much warmer during the night, but still below freezing. I made some OvaEasy eggs that Charlie had given me for breakfast; our conversations while hiking together had invariably turned to food, and these dehydrated eggs were one of his go-to on the trail. He had even included some butter and salt and pepper. So thoughtful! And they actually tasted like eggs!

I hiked down out of the mountains and expected the day to get warmer as I dropped, but instead it got colder. When my fingers stopped working I finally put on more layers; I had been willing the air to warm up, and it wasn’t working.

I started passing mining claims. This area was at the heart of the Oregon gold rush, and folks and companies are still digging up the rivers and mountains looking for the stuff. An entire stretch of the Powder River that runs in the valley below the Elkhorns has been dredged and the piles of tailings are visible in the river bank from on high. There is a massive gold dredge in town that is now a historical landmark and state park, but it was closed when I walked through town. No bonus history lesson for me today.

I had plans at this last resupply stop to rendezvous with Jim and Rhonda Kennedy, Jared’s parents! They had some land nearby and had invited me to stay with them a night, and I happily accepted. I made it to town before our appointed meeting time and went about trying to find lunch. Two of the restaurants were closed, but the cafe in town was open, so I proceeded to order some tacos which I enjoyed on the porch. Then I ordered more. Eight tacos later I was scrolling on my phone when Jim and Rhonda pulled up. 

Who me?

I was whisked away to their piece of heaven overlooking the Middle Fork of the John Day River. I had a fabulous time getting to know them as they plied me with delicacies like crab dip, guacamole, salmon, roasted veggies….I can go on. In a move very unlike me, I ate too much dinner to be able to eat my dessert. I was so ashamed and offered to eat the sweets for breakfast the next morning. 

I am tucked up in a bed so warm and soft they might have to drag me out of here tomorrow. 

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BMT Day 23 – 19.6 miles (386 total)

I went to get water for coffee and found the lake was frozen solid! Oops.

Black Lake, frozen solid

That’s how cold it was last night. I had water in my hydroflask (one of the reasons I’m carrying it is to have unfrozen water in the morning) I could use, but I guess I couldn’t have prevented any other water in my tent from freezing due to the deep penetrating cold. I had stayed warm during the night though….my 5 degree quilt was worth every penny!! (It might have literally been 5 degrees last night). Getting my tent stakes out of the frozen ground proved to be a task. I had to dig and pry, but finally they were all out, although some were a little bent. 

I warmed up quick though as I climbed towards the first pass, marveling at the frozen landscape around me, and trying not to slip on the frozen ice just below the snow. The sun hit and felt rejuvenating. 

I can’t adequately put into words what this 20+ mile crest trail is like. It hangs on the top or near the top of granite peaks. It unveils the world below and I had views over to the Wallowas where I started and the Strawberries where this route ends near John Day. For a while Strawberry Mountain’s 9,000′ peak stood above a layer of clouds and appeared to be floating in the sky. Everything about the day and the hike was almost unbelievable. I will 100% be back here, and couldn’t believe I was hiking in this splendor for the first time.

The cold prevented me from taking long breaks, but it started to ease some by mid day. It was the wind that was the biggest chilling factor, and any time I wanted to pause or stop I had to find a windbreak so I didn’t turn into a She-ra popsicle. Once I exited the North Fork John Day Wilderness the snow started to melt out a little, and I actually found flowing water over the trail to supplement my meager supply.

Shadow selfie

The crest trail kept giving, and didn’t ask for anything in return until the end of the day when my tired leg didn’t quite clear a boulder I was stepping over and I ended up leaving some shin skin as a tribute, the blood running into my sock. A small price to pay for the experience!

As I approached Rock Creek Butte, mountain goats were everywhere! Their thick shaggy coats were brilliant white and were the key to their survival in this steep rocky place. Baby goats ran to catch up with their families and I felt very lucky to share the trail with them.

My destination was Twin Lakes which sat in the shadow of a deep mountain cirque, but when I spied the lakes they looked cold. Real cold. Snow was still on the ground around them, and I doubted the deep pocket they were sitting in had gotten much sun at all during the day. I wanted a warmer night if possible, so I passed them by and went another mile or so until I found a little grotto of trees with just enough space for me and my tent. I was exhausted, but I was happy with my decision as the air felt noticeably warmer. My gauges were off though, because things in the tent started freezing and I still felt warm. Extreme cold puts everything into perspective! 

I had a multiple course dinner…I’d be getting to Sumpter tomorrow, my last resupply stop, and was trying to eat as much of the food I was carrying as I could. I’ve rolled into each resupply stop with some food left, which is not bad. I’m hungry, but not ravenous…the hiker hunger usually kicks in around a month or so on the trail, basically when all of your fat reserves are gone, and I wasn’t quite there yet. It’s dangerous though to enter the holiday season as we are with an insatiable appetite. 

It was another fabulous day on the Blue Mountains Trail!

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BMT Day 22 – 17.5 miles (366.4 total)

When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I saw that the incessant rain was starting to form puddles under part of the tent. Oh the horror! I was thrown back to the worst camping incident of my hiking life when I had been flooded out of my tarp on the Tahoe Rim Trail one September. I was on my way to a week at Patagonia’s tools training conference for environmental activists, and thought I’d squeeze in a quick thru-hike of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail before the conference started. Despite my best efforts everything got wet that night, and when the heavy rain turned to heavy snow that started to collapse the liveable space in my ultralight tarp (pitched with one hiking pole) to a space I could only occupy curled in the fetal position, well, that memory was what drove me to bring a free-standing double-walled tent on this trip. 

The rain had turned to snow during the night, but it was only the faintest dusting. I made some hot tea to sip on during the day and was hiking soon after first light.

Several miles into the day I turned onto a decommissioned road that was to take me along Little Meadow Creek to the East Fork of the Grande Ronde River, then to the main Grande Ronde itself, but the going got so difficult so fast that after about half an hour I crossed the creek and hiked back towards the maintained gravel road I had just left. That was frustrating, but so was a wet riparian area tree obstacle course.

this was once a road..not now.
icy wet bushwhacking

I sat down at the junction and debated what to do. In Jared’s notes he warns of unimproved or missing trail up ahead for almost 7 miles, and that didn’t include the three miles I had just decided not to do. There was another road I could walk around the section I just left that looked long, but the unmaintained trail still loomed…and I could discern no other options to get me out if the going got bad. Ugg. I know there is no right or wrong way path to hike out here; the goal is continuous footsteps across the Blue Mountains, so ultimately I decided this 10-mile section was probably best scouted over a long dry and sunny weekend, not on my attempted thru-hike. So I backtracked.

I had to backtrack 7 miles to get to the dirt Ladd Canyon Road which would deposit me at the doorstep of the Anthony Lakes Ski Area. Ok, decision made, lets do this.

The forecast was for snow most of the day, then single digit temps tonight. Brrr. I decided to camp near the base of the Elkhorn Crest Trail and wait for tomorrow when there were five solid days of sun and temps in the balmy 20 degree range. I wanted to see this magnificent mountain range I would be hiking through!

About halfway down my dirt road I heard a holler and looked up to see Charlie and Suzie walking towards me! Oh joy!!! Charlie brought me a hot mocha and some sweet crepes….the BEST!!!! We walked together for the next few hours, Suzie bounding around in the snow as playful as a puppy, me, grinning ear to ear at the unexpected kindness.

Suzie and crepe

Charlie offered to drive me back to town if I wanted to sit the cold night out in a hotel room, bringing me back in the morning, but I decided I had all the gear to keep me warm, plenty of food, and with the clock on the hike running out, I knew in a week when I was done hiking that I’d be longing for a few cold nights in my tent (I know, most of you are probably thinking that I’m nuts). As it was, the day had already provided so much more than I was expecting. If I had gone ahead with the bushwhack I wouldn’t have run into the dynamic duo. So, as much as I berated myself for turning around and taking the easy way, I knew it was the right move.

Anthony Lakes!

At the yurts on Anthony Lake Charlie decided to take a short hike up to Hoffer Lakes, and offered that I could sit in his warm car and eat lunch while he was gone (COVID has been at the heart of every interaction on this hike, and I appreciated that we were both on the same page about not wanting to expose each other.) Now that I could do! He had more treats in the car and I melted into the heated seats for my break.

I was basically at my destination for the night, and we were parked near some walk-in campsites. After we said our goodbyes (Charlie, I don’t even have words for all you have done for me, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!), I walked past the sites, but kept walking. My legs took me to the start of the trail, and I ended up walking a little further to find the very same camp spot at Black Lake that Kirk and I and our friends Brooke and Adryon had camped at a few years ago. We came up over Labor Day with intentions to backpack along the crest trail, but only a few miles in, some panicked hikers came jogging from the other direction explaining they had just seen a fire start near the trail. Wanting no part of that on a hot dry late summer day, we turned around and camped at Black Lake. Now I was here again, this time in the snow.

I spent the extra daylight hours reading anothher book I had downloaded from the Deschutes library,  Ta-Nehisi Coats’ The Water Dancer.

I bundled up as best I could to keep the cold at bay, and shut my eyes when it got dark. These are longer and longer nights now!

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BMT Day 21 – 17.6 miles (348.9 total)

I was toasty warm all night in my cocoon of down. The world around me through had frozen solid. 

Once it was daylight and the sky had lightening up enough to walk through the forest, I continued on the decommissioned side road up. The general direction for the day was up. The Elkhorns are another high mountain range, with the trail hovering around 8,000′ and the peaks at 9,000′. 

I licked snow off tree branches to supplement my lack of water, then turned the corner to see a full pond of water…about half a mile from where I had camped. Doh!

The air was cold, and I stayed in my down jacket and long johns the whole day. That meant breaks were short and miles were quick. Snow still clung to the road in shady patches; it hadn’t snowed last night, but never got warm enough to met it off. 

I could see I wasn’t the only one using the road; animal tracks criss crossed all over the place. I could see rabbit tracks and squirrel tracks…and one very large set of wolf tracks that followed the road for miles. Whoa!

I decided to stay on the route Jared had proposed and drop down to the headwaters of the Grande Ronde River. It could mean a bushwhack (thus a road alternative is available up top), but I wanted to see this river at the start, this river I had crossed last in Troy. Rivers are a big part of my life (thanks Kirk)! And I’ve enjoyed seeing how their characters change over distance and time.

I made camp by some other small ponds. No dry camping for me tonight! The majority of my nights have been spent away from a water source, so having an unending supply nearby is quite the luxury. 

Rain started soon after I put up the tent. Rain! I might have preferred snow…

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BMT Day 20 – 18.7 miles (331.3 total)

Night three in a hotel room… get me to woods stat! I want to go back to the real world. 

I woke early again, and started packing up the yard sale. My gear was in piles all over the room, but purposeful piles I was telling myself. It was amazing it all fit back in my pack, but with five days of food it was all I could do to close the top…I guess I went big on food this week. 😃

I walked over to Charlie’s place and soon Emily had a latte in my hands, and Charlie was bringing out a German apple Dutch baby. Are you kidding! I am thrilled, spoiled, and grateful all at the same time.

We headed out; there were plans to meet Emily this afternoon when she would pick up Charlie from somewhere on our walk. We skirted the edge of the Eastern Oregon University Campus, (I grew up on college campuses, my Dad having worked at them my whole life…I find something nostalgic, exciting, and hopeful about a university campus) and walked to where Kent and Cilla were waiting for us on the road out of town. 

What fun to have company on this road walk. The day buzzed by as we talked about various adventures we had all been on, fun facts about the area, and the most pertinent public land issues in the Blue Mountains. The stories were fueling our uphill trajectory high enough to get us into some snow. The rain the day before in La Grande had been snow up here. Just a dusting remained and glistened in the bright sun. Cold temps prevented the snow from melting however, and most of the way we played layer shuffle. Hat on, hat off, vest on, vest off. 

Cilla and Kent veared off to walk a loop back to town while Charlie and I kept walking south.

My companions for the day

The expanse of forest around us was stunning, and we walked into the cold, not cold, cold winds of the afternoon until Emily found us on a break, eating fruit in the sun. 

We played switch-a-roo and Emily and their beautiful dog Suzie walked with us. Suzie reminded me of Jasper, our friend’s sweet black lab that Kirk and I used to take on adventures. Jasper is an old lady now and can’t quite frolic as she used to, but at 14 Suzie was leaping around in the frosty remnants of the day before. You can never be too old to play in the snow.

We finally said our goodbyes on the side of the road and I continued on. It was such a welcome change from my daily solo treks so have some company. I really do love hiking with people and I really do love spending time in nature alone as well. Today I got to do both!

The Intrepid Three had marked a water source that I would pass just as I wanted to find camp, but the water was gone. Ahhhhhh. I trudged up the hill looking higher and higher in the drainage for any puddles of the precious liquid, but nope, the cold and inch of snow on the ground had done a number on the little creek. 

I set up the tent and started melting snow for my dinner water and coffee provision in the morning. I’d go without a hot breakfast and eat bars as I didn’t want to burn too much fuel. Turning snow into water…at least there was snow!

I’ve been expecting this cold since the beginning, its quite surprising it took until day 20 for me to get to wear all my down layers. Down booties! Huge down mittens! Finally! 

I made dinner wearing my quilt as a cape, a fabulous technique if I do say so myself.

Crunchy mac and cheese? Hungry don’t care.

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BMT Days 18 & 19 – 0 miles (312.6 total)

Day one was for rest and food. I watched cable TV (and was reminded why I don’t have a TV), ate delivery pizza and salad, ate again from Dennys next door. Did laundry, bathed a few times. Was horizontal. 

Day two was for errands. I had a pile of things I didn’t need anymore, and as this was my first opportunity to visit a post office on the trip, I was able to unload a couple pounds of gear from my pack. I had also broken my hiking pole on the last day into La Grande, so wanted to visit the Blue Mountain Outfitters and see about a replacement. Then resupply. I was very excited at the opportunity to buy whatever food I wanted for the next five days. Thus far my resupply had been prepackaged boxes of food I had sent myself before the hike began. In reality what that looked like was the same food almost every day so far…bulk buying made a lot of sense when I was looking to pack food for a month out here, but I could have done a better job of giving myself a little more variety. I was ready to mix it up a bit before picking up my last resupply box in the next town stop of Sumpter. 

Yeah La Grande!

Back to the hotel to chill a bit before dinner. The folks at the Greater Hells Canyon Council have really gone out of their way to support and fete me on this hike, and tonight board member Charlie Jones had invited me over for a backyard dinner, complete with a cozy fire and hot toddys. Charlie and his wife Emily were fabulous hosts, and I also got to meet their good friends Cilla and Kent who had been Peace Corps volunteers in Africa too, and were very avid backpackers. I was so lucky to have all that local trail knowledge, and we discussed what I had hiked so far, and what I will hike. These people don’t get any better! 

Charlie brought out a mouth watering dinner of chicken/leek/mushroom/spinach crepes with Béchamel sauce and gruyere (OMG!). Cilla had made a salad 100% out of her garden (fresh food!). I was spoiled.

We made plans for the morning; both Charlie and Kent were interested in walking with me for a bit as I headed out of La Grande and towards my next mountain range: the Elkhorns. I can’t wait for the Elkhorns. There is a 20-mile crest trail through this craggy granite mountain range, I would be back up at elevations around 8,000 feet…and with some snow on the way it was sure to be an eventful week of walking.

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BMT Day 17 – 26.8 miles (312.6 total)

The antidote to great effort is great rest. The need for a great rest was becoming more and more apparent as my energy levels and motivation waivered. 

The route today was to follow a trail in the Bear Creek drainage for over five miles, then pop up at the Summit Guard Station and then drop steeply into the Five Points drainage on a trail that probably wasn’t there. That sounded like a whole heck of a lot of effort, and as I was reviewing the map and terrain last night saw there was another trail that climbed up out of Bear Creek after maybe a mile, and then I could connect back up to the route near the top of Mt Emily just north of La Grande. I decided that I’d let the Bear Creek trail make my decision for me. If the trail was in good shape, I’d take the trail. If not, I’d consider the hike out.

And the Bear Creek trail was the trail that time forgot. I found the tread, but there were trees growing over the trail….thats how long it has been let go, maybe 10 years? It was slow going. It was hard walking.

this is trail, or was trail

I decided to choose the river gauntlet as opposed to the trail gauntlet. The river had been scoured clean like many of the others in the area, but this smaller creek also contained a lot of log jams, so I had to carefully climb up and over them. Packrafting has given me a lot of great experience with climbing over log jams…and it is easier to do without a boat…but it was still not easy. 

This bushwhack stood between me and the way out. The only thing to do was put my head down and hope I didn’t get poked in the eye. Literally. 

By the time I got to the first side trail I had gone a mile and a half in an hour and a half. By this rate I’d get to La Grande in another week. No good. I saw a way out and I took it. Into the unknown again. 

free of the bushwhacking!

I climbed steeply up the trail that went up the spine of another ridge. Once I reached the two-track road on top, my efforts of hiking the first three miles of the day had taken three hours. So tired. I’m tired. And the road was not flat.

hard but stunning

I put on some David Bowie and powered up. My reserves were low and sputtering on empty. That road was a cruel joke. That road took what little effort I had left and ground it under its steep rocky boot. The only thing moving my legs at this point was the magnetic pull of La Grande. The Big. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I put on the Beastie Boys, and substituted “Brooklyn” for “La Grande”. No sleep till La Grande!!

So that was when the thought entered my head that I would just keep moving, whatever the speed and just get where I get (maybe town?) I didn’t look at the mileage between me and La Grande, I knew it was a lot. 

So I walked and walked. I transcended the effort and distracted myself with podcasts…and fortunately Mount Emily was a beautiful amazing distraction. The views up top were INCREDIBLE. No words to do it justice.

On the south side of the mountain I entered MERA, a system of trails for hikers, bikers, horses, and ATVs. What an awesome recreation infrastructure so close town! I was already getting a serious crush on La Grande.

And wow, what an entrance! Damn La Grande! I like! It was one of the most scenic and beautiful entrances to a town I’ve seen. I walked down out of the mountains near dusk with pinks and purples streaking the sky. 

I walked right to the first hotel I could find that had laundry available (very important) and checked in for three nights. The time for great rest had now begun.

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BMT Day 16 – 15.9 miles (285.8 total)

Yesterday afternoon’s bushwhack climb wore me out, and I actually slept till 6am this morning, a new record for the trip.

My goal this morning was to reconnect to the route after about 7ish miles, then hike an alternate I came up with after seeing some private land issues. It would be almost the reverse of yesterday: walk out on a ridge top and follow it down to the river below by primarily cross country bushwhacking….I just hope the route I picked isn’t too steep. Seeing the actual terrain instead of just topo lines on the map makes it much more real. 

While I was walking on roads this morning, I put on another podcast. This time with the ladies from Her Oddesey.

If you think I’m hard core, get a load of these two ladies: Neon and Fidget have been walking across the Americas over the last five years; they have about two more to go. That means from the tip of South America (Patagonia) to the tip of North America (Arctic Ocean). Wow. It’s really a whole other level. And these ladies are awesome. I got to hang out with Neon last summer when we both went to the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver, and even though I haven’t met Fidget in person, we’ve exchanged lots of messages (we definitely crack each other up) and she comes so highly recommended (NEMO-approved), that I’m just biding my time till we can all hike together sometime (dream team!). And we just happen so share three of the same sponsors: TOAKS Titanium, Gerber Knives, and Gather Nuts. Thanks for sponsoring some bad ass ladies!

It rained off and on while I was hiking, but the low clouds and rain couldn’t take away from the misty beauty of the day. I am surrounded by the colors of fall now. The oranges, reds, yellows, and maroons fill in the gaps between the deep green firs and golden waving grasses. I haven’t noticed a bunch of cheat grass; this Umatilla area seems to have a lot of native bunchgrasses (to my untrained eye). 

The mountains fold into themselves through the horizon, and for being so close to the city of La Grande, the backcountry was quiet.

I got to the alternate I had devised and noticed with amusement that there was a trail partway out on the ridge. It’s rare that you ever really walk somewhere that no one has walked before…it’s just not possible. The going was pretty easy, but the wind was howling which had me paying extra attention as I edged out farther and farther into the unknown. What I had seen on the topo was a narrow ridge that ran about three miles before it plunged down to the North Fork Mecham River below. 

As I got onto the ridge I had to trust that it was the right way to go and not get sucked down something else that looked doable (like in Joseph Canyon). I got to the end of the “trail” and saw why it was the end: a cliff! It was maybe 20-30 feet high (it did not show up on the topo). I thought I could backtrack and drop down from under it, so I did. Don’t do what I did. More very steep side-hilling. (Actually I know there are hikers out there who love the steep exposed stuff…you folks would be just fine out here). When I got around under the cliff it looked like I might have been able to down-climb it, if that’s your sort of thing. 

The ridge kept going! As I got closer to the Mecham River I could see the line I had proposed to get down to the river was too steep for my comfort, so stayed on the left fingers of the ridge as it split and started fractaling down in size. I spied a game trail going my way, so hopped on that (game trails can be steep though!) and followed it every knee-shaking step to the steep (oh so steep) bottom. I popped out at the mouth of Trop Creek and had to bash my way through the riparian tangle of vegetation to get to the river canyon. My LEAST favorite kind of bushwhacking is through a dense riparian area. My second least favorite is thick manzanita. 

I soon found the easiest walking was in the creek. I popped out on the Mecham River to see a huge flow of rocks and gravel….this had flooded too, but it left me large beds of rock to walk on. It was blissfully branch free. I could move!

I thought it would be an early day today, but that down climb took much longer than I had anticipated. It was arduous, and I don’t think should be part of the official route. Too brutal.

I walked on rocks and in the water until I got to Bear Creek, then took a left turn and found a spot to camp in the trees near the mouth.

Exhausted. So exhausted. Over two weeks of hiking, almost 300 miles walked, and no day off yet. I’ve never gone this long at the start of a trail without a day off, and I’m starting to feel it. I had low energy all day and I can practically hear the soft warm hotel beds of La Grande calling my name. Only a few more days…or less? I’m not sure what the day ahead holds…more bushwhacking I think, and my bushwhacking well has just about run dry. We’ll see if I can pull it off.

Soothing the ache with strawberry cheesecake that my friend Treehugger gave me.

And with this hot toddy kit

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BMT Day 15 – 19.8 miles (269.9 total)

I woke up in a cloud. The wind had been howling, and I hoped a tree wouldn’t come crashing down during the night, or if it did it would be fast and squish me good before I knew what happened. 

I ate one of the cinnamon rolls I had packed out from the store as I sat in my quilt writing yesterday’s blog post, then looked at my maps for the day’s hike. The trail down into North Fork of the Umatilla River was in unknown shape. What was known were reports of the trail being hard to find on the long descent into the canyon, and that there was flood damage in the canyon. The road below which goes to Umatilla Forks Campground was closed due to road damage. OK, well, lets see whats what!

I followed signs for the trailhead, but then my route took me on a closed road before I popped out suddenly on the trail, but no markers or anything. I started walking into the amazing landscape of ridges covered in grasses and peppered with trees. It was beautiful. I immediately saw a hunter, so that was a good sign, someone was using the trail. I could see switchbacks for quite a while and thought this could be a much better hike into the canyon than I was prepared for. 

I was cruising down the trail when I saw three bright figures side-hilling down a slope above the trail. When I reached them, the three woman said, “oh, there is trail!” They apparently had trouble finding it even from the trailhead. The women were from Pendleton out for a day hike, and marveled at what I was doing; they seemed a little jealous.

The trail tread was there the whole way down, and sure, it did get brushy, and it wasn’t exactly where drawn on the map, but I had no problem following it and making good time. The rain even let up, and it would be clear for the rest of the day. Joy!

Once I reached the river I sat down for a break: another cinnamon roll and hot coffee in my hydroflask. It’s humid and warm today. When I lay down on my tyvek at morning break I could see all sorts of buzzing things in the air above and there were at least four types of evergreens in the space towering over my spot. Such a diversity in life down here. I am in wilderness again, and I don’t think this drainage has been logged.

I could immediately see the flood path. Trees were uprooted and jumbled everywhere. It was a big one! But the trail was there, although covered with down trees, but some nice human or humans had been through and had cut the most important branches off (the ones that would prevent you from climbing over), and I could see the path. I just had to think like the trail…where would I go? Climbing up and over dead fall is exhausting, but at least I was going the same direction as gravity.

In a mile or two the clearing was much more pronounced, and most of the trees had been cut from the tread. Thank you! The trail was gone in a few places, ripped away by the raging waters, but always there was a path around.

I got to the bottom and found a patch of sun near the bridge (still standing) over the water to have a nice long lunch.

Then I started down the road for a three-mile road walk, and saw what the flooding had done to the road. Big chunks of pavement were missing and debris covered the road where normally small side channels had ripped free and covered it with mud and vegetation. Then, the road was gone. Just gone. In several places the flood waters had rounded a corner and taken the road out entirely at that corner. I had to find a way to climb down to the now very wide river channel to walk on the river rocks and climb up the other side. This flood was MASSIVE!! I wonder if they will even fix the road; I’m even not sure how they would. At some point I smelled the sulfur of hot springs, but couldn’t see where it was coming from.

When I got to my next turn, I had another short break and decided on my next moves. There was supposed to be a trail that continued on the South Fork of the Umatilla (a much smaller creek). The trail was in unknown condition, then in two miles I would get to another trail that climbed to the ridge above, but that trail was most likely decommissioned, which means not there anymore. There was also a trail that climbed right from where I was, and could be linked to the other route via a series of two-track roads up top. I couldn’t find the trail on the side of the river where it was supposed it be, but I found a signed trail on the other side…so I walked that a total of 100 feet before I lost it in the overgrowth. I couldn’t find the trail that was supposed to switchback 2,000 feet up to the Shimmiehorn (what does that mean?) either. 

So I weighed my options. Bushwhack two miles in a river canyon and then bushwhack up a climb? Or bushwhack up a climb? I chose the latter, thinking it would equal less bushwhacking overall. So I just went for it. Steep. One step at a time. Struggle. Trees down. Struggle. Steep. After about half an hour of very little progress I had inched my way up and sweat was pouring down; I finally intersected what I thought was trail. This trail went straight up the ridge, so I kept going. It was there, then not there, but I kept climbing, and the views got better and better. 

Finally I popped out on a road. Relief! 

It’s important to recognize that we as hikers are vectors for invasive weeds to spread. I had all sorts of seed pods and stickers in my hair and on my clothes, but plucked them off and put them in my pocket to throw them in my trash bag instead of on the ground to grow another weed where it doesn’t belong.

I walked a few more miles on the road up on the Shimmiehorn and found a spot with a view that was tucked under a big tree. Whew. What a day.

Oh, I saw my first bear today! Or its rear end as it ran away.

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